In proportion as we keep ourselves fully alive to our tendency in this matter of authority may we trust ourselves to administer the law to creatures so tender in body and soul as are the little children. We shall remember that a word may wound, that a look may strike as a blow. It may indeed be necessary to wound in order to heal, but we shall examine ourselves well before we use the knife. There will be no hasty dealing out of reproof and punishment, reward and praise, according to the manner of mood we are in. We shall not only be aware that our own authority is deputed, and to be used with the meekness of wisdom; but we shall be very careful indeed in our choice of the persons in whose charge we place our children. It is not enough that they be good Christian people. We all know good Christian persons of an arbitrary turn who venture to wield that rod of iron which is safe in the hands of One alone. Let them be good Christian persons of culture and self-knowledge; not the morbid self-knowledge that comes of introspection, but that wider, humbler cognisance of self that comes of a study of the guiding principles and springs of action common to us all as human beings, and which brings with it the certainty that––"I am just such an one as the rest, and might even be as the worst, were it not for the grace of God and careful walking."
She describes childhood memories (of other people) in which a hasty thoughtless word reverberated for decades in the heart of a child. She emphasizes how terrible it is to cause needless pain.
And then she flips it around. She says, yes, that is very wrong, but here is something worse:
"Don't make a fool of the child," was the warning young mothers used to get from their elders. But we have changed all that, and a child's paradise must be prepared for the little feet to walk in. "He's so happy at school" we are told, and we ask no more. We have reversed the old order; it used to be, "If he's good, he will be happy"; now we say, "If he's happy, he will be good." Goodness and happiness are regarded as convertible terms, only we like best to put "happy" as the cause, and "good" as the consequent. And the child brought up on these lines is both happy and good without much moral effort of self-compelling on his own part, while our care is to surround him with happy-making circumstances until he has got into the trick, as it were, of being good.
So, it is terrible to be capricious in the ruling of children, but it is even worse to make life so easy for them that they have little inner struggle to be good, or never realize they must regulate themselves in order to be good.
He must endure hardness if you would make a man of him. Blame as well as praise, tears as well as smiles, are of human nature's daily food; pungent speech is a tool of the tongue not to be altogether eschewed in the building of character; let us call a spade a spade, and the child who brings the wrong book "stupid," whether before strangers or behind them. Much better, this, than a chamber-conference with "Mother" about every trifle, which latter is apt to lead to a habit of morbid introspection.
We are, in truth, between Scylla and Charybdis: on this side, the six-headed, many-toothed monster of our own unbridled love of power; on that, the whirlpool which would engulf the manly virtues of our poor little Ulysses. If we must choose, let it be Scylla rather than Charybdis; better lose something through the monster with the teeth, than lose ourselves in the whirlpool.
There is a story by Mark Twain that illustrates this truth, called "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg". Now, Hadleyburg was a town that had a solid reputation of honesty and uprightness, and the citizenry were extremely proud of this, so proud that they began to put fences around their virtue. "Throughout the formative years temptations were kept out of the way of the young people, so that their honesty could have every chance to harden and solidify, and become a part of their very bone." Finally, after years of this, the citizens of Hadleyburg had the misfortune of offending a bitter, vindictive man, who schemed and thought for an entire year before he came up with a plan so comprehensive that not one member of the town would escape unhurt. You have to go read the story to find out how he did it, but it was very effective. At the end of the story the town changes its motto... no, really, go read the story. I don't want to spoil the ending. But Mark Twain is a master storyteller who gets his point across: protecting children by never allowing them to experience an independent moral decision, never to have "the discipline of failure as well as success," is a mistake. And the story also shows how very insidious idolatry can be.
When I realize that we parents walk between Scylla and Charybdis in our care and discipline of our children, I understand even more how very important prayer is, and I feel so thankful that the Holy Spirit does not rely on me to initiate or maintain a relationship between the Lord and my child. My job, as CM discusses in this chapter, is to govern my children, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, all the while realizing that their angels always behold the face of our Father in Heaven, and being mindful that "the [only] One who is entrusted with the rod of iron is meek and lowly of heart. " May I be likewise meek while leading, and keep my focus on Him.